As many of you are aware, Metro recently eliminated Route 99 – the only bus route that serviced the waterfront and the northwest Belltown area. Coupled with the Mayor’s announcement on March 30 to pause construction of the center city connector streetcar and the construction for it on First Avenue in Pioneer Square, the waterfront has become a transit desert.
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It’s easy to overlook how many people travel to, from and through the waterfront every day. Ferries dropping off commuters with every arrival, visitors from around the region and the world riding the wheel or enjoying the aquarium, restaurants, Myrtle Edwards Park, the Olympic Sculpture Park and boarding cruise ships. And there are over 2,500 people working between Colman Dock and Pier 70, and, remarkably, over 3,000 Seahawks season ticket holders live on Vancouver Island, many of whom take the Victoria Clipper and then make their way to the game.
We all know major changes will be continuing on the waterfront over the next five years. The viaduct will be demolished starting next fall, Colman Dock will be refurbished and Pier 62 rebuilt. A tree-lined promenade will be a short distance from the brand new 1st Avenue street car. Change is coming, and with change comes growing pains. Traffic congestion is going to worsen and businesses along the waterfront will continue to suffer.
In anticipation of these challenges and because bus service was too unpredictable and undependable with all the construction, Metro cancelled Route 99 – the only bus route that serviced the waterfront and the northwest Belltown area.
Those operating shops, restaurants and other businesses along the waterfront are nervous about becoming too isolated and losing customers. I’m worried for them too. After all, it’s not just bus service that is getting cutoff from the waterfront. Streets and sidewalks will continue to be blocked and access to parking will be greatly diminished.
Those concerns are why I sponsored a motion to the King County Council requiring a report to be made to the Council on plans to provide public transportation service to the waterfront and northwest Belltown as successive phases of construction are completed. A second motion requires Metro to develop a long-term waterfront strategy so residents, workers and visitors will have viable transportation options.
To complete these tasks, Metro Transit formed a new task force that I co-convened last week–the Waterfront Advisory Group, bringing together waterfront stakeholders that include representatives from the Aquarium, Victoria Clipper, Port of Seattle, Metro Transit, the City of Seattle and many businesses along the waterfront.
This group is a unique mix of sophisticated people who have different ways of approaching complex challenges. That’s why I am feeling very positive about the solutions we will develop.
Our city is well known for its innovative culture and approach to new technology I anticipate this group will harness that same level of creativity and develop bold ideas and new partnerships to tackle this transit challenge head on. And not to just deliver transit options after all the projects are complete. We need to come up with near-term solutions to keep people moving on the waterfront during its revitalization.
Imagine a route that connects all of Seattle’s tourist hotspots – the Seattle Center, the waterfront, Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square and Century Link and Safeco Fields. Or how about something as simple as a shuttle that runs up and down the waterfront and links up to the bus system for an easy transfer? Maybe a private-public partnership will be born and a new product yet to be tested will be the solution to our transit difficulties on the waterfront and northwest Belltown. This is the type of creative approach we will be taking as a group.
We often think about equity when it comes to access to jobs and education but equity is also about access to quality of life experiences. So many of us have enjoyed strolling the waterfront with loved ones, poking into the shops, and eating an ice cream cone while gazing at the Olympics. These wonderful moments shouldn’t be exclusive to those who are privileged enough to live near the waterfront or who own a car and can afford to pay for parking. That’s why it is so important for us to act quickly and creatively to restore public transit to this classic Seattle landmark sooner than later.
See you on the waterfront!